AS THE WALL CAME DOWN
Summary: A group of friends gather to watch their homes being demolished.
Rating: General rating
Peter watched the demolition crew arrive. Some of his mates began heckling them and shouting but the workers were too professional to be disturbed by a little white trash. The workers pressed forward with their bulldozers and wrecking-balls, towards what had been Peter's building complex. It wasn't his in the sense that he owned it but it had been his home since he was seven. Now, at age twenty-two, Peter had been livid to receive an eviction notice. Weeks of letters to the department of Planning had produced weeks of replies where the signatures differed but the message was always the same. Thank you for your letter, now go away.
To make matters worse, Peter wasn't even a registered resident. The apartment was in his mother's name. Since his mother was getting a little vague these days, Peter handled almost everything to do with the apartment but his mother technically had the final word.
"Do something, Mum," Peter had told her. "Do something."
"It'll blow over," his mother had said. "It'll go away."
But it hadn't.
Now his mother sat in the bar across the street with her neighbour, Mrs Petzl. Former neighbour or at least soon-to-be former neighbour. Mrs Petzl's children had decided to put Mrs Petzl in a nursing home so the two women were bitching about nursing homes together. Since it would probably be the last time they'd ever speak to one another, Peter had let them be and joined his mates out the front of the bar.
There were a handful of them standing on the sidewalk, beers and cigarettes in their hands, trying to pretend they didn't care about the preparations taking place across the street. As they waited for the destruction to begin, a car pulled up on their side of the street. It was a navy blue Alfa Romeo, a cut above the cars usually seen in the neighbourhood. Not a car of the super wealthy but definitely the car of someone with a stable job. The sunlight reflecting off the windscreen hid the driver from view. Peter had to wait for the driver to emerge before his impression was confirmed. The newcomer was in his thirties and wearing a grey business suit without a tie.
Two of Peter's mates, Derrick and Michael, walked unsteadily over to the newcomer's car. The newcomer had frozen in place, eyes fixed on the construction crews. He didn't notice the two of them approaching.
"Tha' your building?" demanded Derrick, his speech slurred by too much beer.
The newcomer jumped, his concentration broken.
"What?" asked the newcomer warily, looking Derrick up and down.
"I said," repeated Derrick. "Is that your building?"
The newcomer looked across the street at the building. Peter had trouble reading his disturbed expression. It could have been guilt or regret or maybe sadness.
"No," said the newcomer.
"You look like a council person to me," said Michael. "Do you own that building? Come to watch them tear it down?"
The newcomer turned around to look at Michael, who was standing behind him.
"No, I'm not a council person," said the newcomer flatly.
"You look like one," insisted Michael.
As the newcomer turned, Peter caught sight of a slight bulge underneath the business suit jacket. The newcomer had a gun. Peter started forward, desperately thinking of an excuse to drag Derrick and Michael away without upsetting the newcomer.
Peter stumbled as he reached them, cursing as he realised that extra beer had been a mistake. When Peter looked up, the newcomer was watching him with a frown. The newcomer was now surrounded by Peter and his two friends and he knew it. The newcomer's hand settled on the hip nearest the bulge and turned so that his back was to the side of his car. His expression was calm but prepared. Peter knew the three of them, drunk as they were, would be no match for the sober newcomer.
"Don't mind them," said Peter hurriedly. "Come on, guys, don't bother the man."
Peter snagged Michael's elbow and tried to lead him back to the bar. Michael shook him off.
"We are not bothering nobody," said Michael, pronouncing each word carefully and deliberately.
Derrick nodded unsteadily and then leaned in towards the newcomer. The newcomer wrinkled his nose at Derrick's breath but held Derrick's gaze.
"You not from the neighbourhood," said Derrick accusingly.
Derrick swayed slightly and slammed his hand onto the roof of the newcomer's car to keep his balance.
There was a commotion from inside the car and a shape lunged at Derrick from the car's sunroof. Derrick yelled, throwing himself away from the car and landing in a heap on the sidewalk. Michael grabbed Peter's sleeve and stumbled backwards. Peter himself had taken three steps backwards before he recognised the shape as a dog. It was a large German shepherd, it's head and front paws thrust through the car's sunroof. It barked loudly at Derrick but stayed where it was. The newcomer leant casually across the roof of his car to scratch the dog behind the ears. The dog's tongue lolled out of it's mouth happily and it turned to look directly at Peter. It titled its head to the side and Peter felt like he was being assessed. The newcomer looked down at Derrick, wrinkling his nose.
"Don't touch my car. He...," the newcomer waved at the dog. "He doesn't like it."
Michael let go of Peter's sleeve and staggered forward to help Derrick to his feet. The two of them leant against each other unsteadily. Peter was slightly relieved to see that the newcomer's hand had moved away from the bulge. The man's expression was less wary now, more amused. While this seemed to annoy Michael and Derrick more, it was a significant relief to Peter.
"The dog's dangerous," said Michael quietly. "There's laws... and stuff."
The newcomer tried not to smile, "Don't bother him. He won't bother you."
"Not bothering nobody," Michael grumbled but he turned Derrick around and the two of them weaved back in the direction of the pub.
The newcomer looked at Peter, who still hadn't moved. Peter smiled nervously under the scrutiny and followed Michael and Derrick. They resumed their positions out the front of the bar. Their other mates had laughed at them, especially at Derrick who had stacked it at the sight of the dog. Peter looked across to see the newcomer watching them. The newcomer noticed Peter watching and quickly looked back at the building.
"Watch it, guys, he has a gun," Peter hissed at Michael.
Michael stiffened, looking pale, "How'd you know?"
"I saw it from here," said Peter angrily. "Why do you think I went over there?"
"My god," said Michael. "Derrick.... you could have gotten us killed!"
Derrick tried to straighten up angrily, miscalculated and nearly fell over.
"You," said Derrick, pointing an unsteady finger at Michael. "Your idea... to go over."
Peter was about to wade into the brewing argument when his mother Diana and Mrs Petzl walked out of the bar.
"They started yet?" trilled Mrs Petzl, pointing a finger covered in cheap jewellery across the street.
Peter shook his head, "Not yet, Mrs Petzl."
"Why on earth not?" asked Peter's mother dully. "I'd have thought they'd have a schedule. Other people's homes to knock over."
Mrs Petzl nodded enthusiastically but her head paused mid-bob.
"Look, Diana," said Mrs Petzl, tugging on her companion's sleeve. "Look at the doggy!"
Peter's mother joined Mrs Petzl at gazing at the German shepherd which still had its head stuck out of the sunroof. The two women set off as one down the sidewalk.
"Mum?" called Peter. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Neither woman seemed to have heard him. Peter looked to his mates.
Michael shrugged, "Don't look at me. I'm staying here."
Peter set off at a trot after them but they'd already reached the newcomer's car. The newcomer was staring at the building but looked up warily as the two approached.
Peter caught up in time to hear his mother say, "Does your dog bite?"
The newcomer looked slightly pained at being asked but smiled politely, "No. He's very well-trained."
"Can we pat him?" asked Mrs Petzl. "He's a very gorgeous dog."
The newcomer nodded and the two women pushed forward to lavish attention on the dog. The dog, for his part, was content to lick whichever hand came within reach.
"What's it called?" asked Peter's mother.
"His name is Rex," said the newcomer.
"Aren't you a good boy, Rex?" cooed Mrs Petzl. "You are. You are."
Peter stopped uncomfortably a few steps away from the car. The newcomer raised an eyebrow at him but remained relaxed. His hand stayed away from his hip.
"Can we take him for a walk?" asked Peter's mother.
The newcomer frowned, "I'm not really sure whether I should."
He waved at the demolition crews, "It might get a little noisy for him."
Mrs Petzl nodded sagely, "We don't want him to run in front of a car, do we?"
Peter's mother turned back to the dog, "Oh no, we don't want that, do we Rex?"
"You and Rex don't live around here, do you Mr... I'm sorry, what was your name again?" asked Mrs Petzl.
The newcomer smiled politely, "I didn't say. But it's Moser. Richard Moser."
"Oh!" yelped Mrs Petzl.
Peter jumped backwards again and looked around sheepishly but Mrs Petzl was pointing at the newcomer, Moser. For his part, Moser looked a little stunned and Peter prayed he wouldn't reach for his gun.
"Not Birgit's son?" asked Mrs Petzl, looking so excited she was on the verge of exploding.
Moser blinked for a moment before the question sunk in, then blushed, "Yes."
"You know him?" frowned Peter's mother.
Mrs Petzl nodded enthusiastically, "Gosh. Don't you remember Birgit Moser? She used to live in apartment 36D. She was a seamstress and used to give everybody fabric for Christmas."
Peter's mother smiled suddenly, "Oh, Birgit. I remember her, poor duck, but I don't remember her having a son."
Mrs Petzl shrugged, "Oh, she and her little boy moved out just after your family moved in. He used to play with my eldest all the time."
Mrs Petzl turned back to Moser with a self-satisfied expression, looking him up and down. Moser shifted uncomfortably but said nothing. Peter looked at the car and the suit and shook his head. He remembered Birgit Moser and had felt sorry when he'd heard that she'd passed away. Peter still had some of the clothes she'd made him. But he couldn't remember her son and he couldn't see Moser ever fitting into the apartment complex.
"Come to watch the old building go down?" asked Peter's mother.
Moser nodded, looking back across the street, "It was where I grew up."
Peter rolled his eyes, thinking to himself, More likely he wants to make certain it's gone. A man in his position doesn't ever want to return to where he was.
A whistle blew and the demolition crew moved away from the building. All conversation ceased. The group at the car watched. Peter's friends at the bar watched. The bar workers watched. The dog watched. A wrecking ball slowly swung backwards to gain momentum. They all tracked its movement with their eyes. All noise faded to a distant hum. The wrecking ball smashed into the side of the building. The noise was thunder in the silence. Clouds of dust billowed, plaster shattered and huge blocks fell like nothing more than breadcrumbs. The wrecking ball wobbled uncontrolled for a moment before it swung backwards again to get another run-up. With each earth-shattering crunch, more was dying than just a building. It was a forgotten past for a forgotten son, a childhood for the young independent men and an era for the women who were now homeless. As the wall came down there was nothing they could do. But grieve.